Blog Essay Class 3

In “Entertaining Democracy”Curran addressed several ways entertainment contributes to politics, one of which is that media contributes to “a dialogue about social norms” (2010, p. 47).  Over time, media has changed the view of what is ‘acceptable’ in society, and has led to the passage or change of laws, and even media practices.  For example, when a 13 year old girl exposed the gender stereotyping that occurs in advertising, Hasbro agreed to feature boys and girls in their Easy Bake Oven commercials.

The Merchants of Cool Frontline Report was a flashback to my own teen experience. (7th Heaven and Dawson’s Creek were staples of my adolescent television viewing!)  As the report noted, teens are an influential population with disposable income, and are thus the targets for many companies.  I recently completed a course on theories of adolescent development, and I am now surprised we did not cover any related directly to media influence.  Social influences are widely discussed in child/adolescent development, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any relating specifically to media, which is surprising considering the large number of media messages teens are exposed to (Merchants of Cool stated 10 million by age 18 – I would guess this number could be larger now).

I have always accepted the idea that teen behavior is heavily influenced by media (commonsense maybe??), but to what extent is debatable.  In a New York Times critique of violence on screen, A. O. Scott wrote that we “project what we see in movies onto more mundane situations”.  In consuming these dramatic sources of media that are made to appear as reality, we distort our own perceptions of actual occurrences. The Merchants of Cool report asks “media is just a mirror, or is it?”  The reporters then suggest that what occurs is actually a feedback loop: teens influence media that then influences teens. However, in the same New York Times piece, Chris Suellentrop notes that while sales of video games have increased, the number of violent youth offenders has decreased.  Along those lines, Dargis mentioned in her critique that violence in entertainment is not new, it has been around since 1895.  While we may be exposed to violence through television, movies and video games, it may not actually be influencing behavior.

While there are certainly widespread negative correlations between entertainment sources and society, there are also positive trends.  The Merchants of Cool report mentioned the WB network and its commitment to family values, with the exception coming in with Dawson’s Creek.  I believe the report described the show as the story of four sex obsessed teens.  As I mentioned earlier, I regularly watched the show, alongside my mother and sister.  I come from a conservative background, where topics like sexual health and even healthy relationships were not addressed.  A lot of what I learned about these topics was from school programs, peers, and quite possibly, media consumption.  I found it particularly interesting that the report featured the writers and showed their discussions about navigating condom use – sexual education through television! Additionally, television shows are increasingly featuring homosexual relationships in a positive light.  The show Glee has several great episodes that show the process of coming out to a parent.  Including topics like this that may not be addressed within the home or school, is certainly a positive feature of entertainment.  While entertainment has its limitations and may lead to distorted perceptions, thankfully, it also can provide positive behavioral role models.

DQ: How would Merchant of Cool be different if it were redone today?

Jessie King

jessking@ufl.edu

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4 thoughts on “Blog Essay Class 3

  1. I watched the Merchants of Cool a few years ago and even thought it was outdated then. To answer your question, I think the teenagers of today are fairly similar to the teenagers of yesterday with one HUGE difference: technology. Cell phones and social media have skyrocketed since 2001 when Facebook was yet to be invented (it was invented in 2004) and before Internet was accessible on a cell phone.
    I think the marketers looking for “cool” would have an easier time accessing trends among teens through social media such as Instagram and Pinterest where popular ideas are flaunted all day.
    While I was watching Merchants of Cool in regards to this class, I couldn’t help but think sadly for the aspiring models and the changes they would have to go through from 2001 to today. I feel that, because of social media and the ability to voyeur upon all celebrities, supermodels and “beautiful people” of today, the Merchants of Cool would have a larger focus on marketing and body image if it was remade.

  2. I think that if Merchants of Cool were to be redone today, things would be a lot more complicated. I think that reality TV has gotten “braver” over time, in the sense that there are more controversial topics being covered than in the time of Dawson’s Creek. Examples of this include homosexual relationships and “coming out” stories (like you mentioned). Shows like Glee, the L-word and even depictions of homosexuals on primetime TV shows like Modern Family’s Cam and Mitchell have totally redefined issues we face today. Some are the same, like sexual safety and issues, but TV has still not moved toward total acceptance. I learned in my mass media and health class last semester that TV is hypersexualized, but safety and real-life issues like pregnancy and STDs are very rarely discussed, if ever. (FYI: if you’re interested, two articles we talked about last semester were “Using the Integrative Model to Explain How Exposure to Sexual Media Content Influences Adolescent Sexual Behavior” by Bleakley et al. and “Sexy Media Matter: Exposure to Sexual Content in Music, Movies, Television, and Magazines Predicts Black and White Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior” by Brown et al.)

    The definition of family is also different. It’s not just a nuclear group consisting of a mom, dad and 2.5 kids with a white picket fence. Reality TV groups form their own families…. I’m thinking of shows with a competitive element that involve teamwork. Another show that depicts the changing definition of family is of course, Modern Family. The two gay men have adopted an Asian baby named Lilly. Now, ACLU is calling for the show’s writers to script a wedding between the two men. This is democracy and media in action, because gay marriage has been a hot button issue lately. Here’s one writer’s take on the issue – http://hypervocal.com/politics/2013/aclu-modern-family-cam-mitch/

    But at the same time, I also worry that some groups aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Some ethnic groups are still largely invisible from primetime TV—like Middle Easterners… who are usually highly stereotyped when they are on primetime TV. Asians and Indians have been getting more attention with shows like The Mindy Project (Mindy Kaling), Parks & Recreation (Aziz Ansari) and Top Chef (Padma Lakshmi).

    Also, I feel like shows such as “Ru-Paul’s Drag Show” weren’t as common during the time the Merchants of Cool series was done. We have definitely moved toward greater acceptance and awareness of all different types of interests and subcultures, though I worry about the fetishization of these cultures.

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